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Norse and Rus' had been travelling to Byzantium for at least a century before 988 A.D., when Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev (later Saint Vladimir) sent six thousand 'Varangians' (probably mixed Russian and Norse troops) to Constantinople to serve Emperor Basil II, in return for Christian baptism and the hand of a Byzantine princess.
Like other Rus' before them, they served with distinction in the regular army, but sometime around or before the middle of the eleventh century, Varangians replaced the existing native Imperial guards. Their boldness, bravery and unswerving loyalty is recorded by Byzantine chroniclers.
These Emperor's Varangians, also know as the 'axe-wielding guard' (though one Emperor nicknamed them "Winebags"), were primarily Norsemen until the late eleventh century, when a large influx of Englishmen fleeing Norman persecution significantly changed the ethnic composition.
Scandinavian involvement revived during the Crusades, and indeed, the heyday of the Emperor's Varangians seems to have run from the late 11th to the mid 12th century.
After the destruction caused in the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 A.D., the Varangian Guard continued to exist in name but became a hereditary ceremonial guard, largely drawn from internal Byzantine sources.
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Stephen Francis Wyley 1999 - 2004